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Strangers In A Parking Lot: Raising a Child with Disabilities

Lyndse Ballew by Lyndse Ballew Additional Needs

Lyndse Ballew

Lyndse Ballew

We don't have a placard yet, so parking has been tricky. 

I remove the wheelchair by lifting it out of the back of our van, try to squeeze between two vehicles, and load Adelaide.

Most days, we cannot fit.

So I leave the wheelchair at the back of the van, get Adelaide, and load her up just feet from passing cars.

When we are ready to leave, I usually park the wheelchair at the back, load Adelaide, then lift our wheelchair back up into the van.

We had already loaded up, when a woman and young man approached the vehicle next to us in the disabled van spot.

The caregiver and an aide started to lower the side lift from the vehicle.

They attached the transit straps.

We were just waiting.

We weren't staring.

I didn't offer to help, because they had everything under control.

It makes me nervous when strangers approach me.

I have my systems, so it's just easiest to stick to our routine.

I wasn't reversing our vehicle, because I wanted to stay out of their way.

But what I often see in the special needs community reared its ugly head.

This attitude that everyone is judging us, glaring at us, and being inconsiderate.

And that no one in the entire world knows our struggle.

As we just patiently waited in our van, she said in the most caustic voice, "You have no consideration. No consideration."

This woman hadn't seen me luck into a close parking spot with necessary room.

She hadn't seen me load a non-verbal, drooling, bottle-drinking 30lb toddler into a carseat.

She hadn't watched me pick up a 55lb wheelchair and put it up into my van. 

Fifty-five pounds.

All she saw was a mom sitting in a van.

And she had the nerve to call me inconsiderate.

"Actually, I am very considerate.

That's why I am waiting and staying out of your way.

If leaving this spot is easier for you, then I will leave.

Because I am considerate.

Just tell me what you want."

I don't usually answer back to people when they are rude to me. 

I'm typically a 'smile and nod' mom.

But I was livid.

How dare this caregiver just assume that I am parked here not thinking of her situation.

She was completely wrong. 

I want to show grace to the tired caregivers, but I also don't want to feed into this damaging behavior I see all around us.

She told me to "just leave already" and I carefully reversed.

My dear friend mentioned that she read two articles back to back.

One was about how people in wheelchairs (and caregivers pushing wheelchairs) didn't want help from strangers and to be treated as less-than-able. 

The next article was about how people in wheelchairs (and caregivers pushing wheelchairs) don't get enough assistance from strangers.

"Lyndse, I was so confused. Was I supposed to help or walk by?

The articles totally conflicted one another. So I decided to just do for a person in a wheelchair what I would want someone to do for me. I'll ask to open the door.

They might think I'm rude, but I think it would be rude not to offer that. I appreciate when people offer to open doors for me."

Here is a person with zero disabilities and typical children, experiencing what I see in our community on a daily basis. 

We are so set on believing that everyone is either trying to ignore us, belittle us, or feel sorry for us, that we miss all the people who are genuinely just trying to be helpful human beings.

And most people do not know what to do in situations that involve wheelchairs.

And if they try to read up on it, the opinions are all over the place.

I don't want to become the person who insults complete strangers in a parking lot. 

This woman didn't know that we are on the same team.

That I had just changed a diaper.

That I had just fed a snack one little bite at a time.

That a child had run from my daughter, probably afraid of the noises and vocalizations. 

She just assumed that I was unaware of her battle.

I did what I appreciate people doing for me...waiting to reverse until I have the wheelchair put away.

Sometimes, people ask if I prefer they wait or reverse.

"Waiting for a moment would be excellent, if you can spare a couple of minutes. Thank you." 

I am polite.

Thankful that someone cared enough to ask.

But I don't expect it either.

The world doesn't revolve around us. 

I don't want to become what I typically see.

An agitated mom who just assumes that all the world can't relate to me and I have some right to be rude to another person.

I understand that we are stressed and fatigued and are sometimes lifting 55 lb wheelchairs into vans.

But when we disrespect others just because we think their lives are easier, we teach the world that being a caregiver to a person with special needs warrants bitterness and hostility. 

And then people who are just trying to be helpful are left on the sidelines confused and wondering how their considerate behavior was offensive.

I didn't explain to her that I could relate, because it shouldn't make any difference at all.

We were just two strangers in a parking lot, both fully capable of showing respect to one another.



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